This is a great question and one that I often assume people already know the answer to. For those of you wondering what to expect, who have never had a Therapeutic Massage and still wonder what that means exactly, I apologize for my assumption and will explain how I see a Therapeutic Massage from the clients perspective. Here’s a basic list of what to expect:
- Friendly Massage Therapist who explains every step
- Clean office space
- Get ready alone to your comfort level of undressing
- Plenty of comfortable sheets & blanket to cover you
- The Massage Therapist knocks when they come back in
- The Massage Therapist should communicate with you for your requests/pain/comfort level
- If there are painful areas, your pain tolerance is respected
- If there is not enough pressure, you can request more…or leave
- Your aches/pains/tensions are addressed
- You feel safe, comfy, happy & relaxed
- Your time is honored and accounted for
- Payment is taken, (tips are encouraged)
- You reschedule :) At least 1 massage per month for life (just think how this investment in your health could change your patience level, sleep, relaxation, effectiveness, peace & calm, etc….just sayin’)
First of all, keep in mind that the phrase and act of giving a “Therapeutic Massage” is as broad a term as asking an art class to paint the picture of a house. For the art students, they are shown in the same way how to outline the frame of the house, where to put the windows and doors, maybe even what colors to use, yet each student will paint something very unique. Their painting will still have the house frame, some doors and windows, and possibly similar colors as their classmates, but each painting is as individual as each painter.
The same is true for “Therapeutic Massage.” The hours of required classes of “how to” in any massage school world wide are basically the same. Students are taught the same framework of a basic massage.
I can remember learning to do 3 circles on each part of the arm, then each part of the leg, then the foot, then the other foot, then the next leg, etc, until the entire sequence was finished. And we’d practice this basic “square” until it was memorized.
Like an open canvas is to a painter, so is a massage to a Massage Therapist. Each session can have different tones of light or dark colors, soft or hard pressure, starting on the feet or neck or back, starting face-up or face-down. What type of lotion, oil, aromatherapy to use? Should you add hot rocks, hot towels, different music, heated blankets? Are you going to stay standing or use a chair? How much breathing or stretching will be involved? The way the massage goes is lead by many factors of how fast the client relaxes with different tools from our pallet of massage moves.
What should you expect during a Therapeutic Massage…
Your therapist should greet you happily, with a form for you to fill out of your basic medical information as it pertains to having a massage. This is because certain medical conditions, some obvious, some not so obvious, can be affected negatively by the rubbing of skin, lymph, muscles, etc. You could see questions like, “do you have any open wounds?” (the more obvious problem for massage), to “do you have blood clots” (a less obvious but very serious contraindication…which means….massage could make this condition worse).
After you finish your paperwork, your therapist will lead you to your massage room and explain what to do. It could go something like this: “Have you ever had a massage before? How can I help you today? This is the massage table. When you lay down, you should be between the bottom sheet and the top sheet/blanket. Your face goes into this headrest. You can put your belonging and clothes over here on this chair. For me to work on the pain on your back, I suggest that you take off at least your shirt. You may also take off all your clothes or just leave your underwear on. You should know that you will always be covered by this sheet and blanket. Do you have any questions? I’m going to leave the room and wash my hands. You go ahead and get ready. I will knock when I come back in.”
You can make the best choice for you of whether to get undressed or not. Truly, as Massage Therapists, if they have worked on several 1000 clients, then they are used to anything. I work on nuns who cannot take off their clothes, on clients who need an chaperone in the room for religious reasons, and those very used to massage who start getting undressed before I close the door…and everything in-between. Lay down, relax, breathe, get comfortable.
You need to be comfortable. That’s what matters. We will work with whatever makes you comfortable.
During your Therapeutic Massage, you should expect communication from your therapist: if the pressure is too hard, hard enough, are you comfortable, are you warm enough, is the music ok for you, etc, etc. When you have a special request, for example, “neck pain”, then the therapist should ask you about your pain tolerance in certain “trigger point” areas. What does “trigger point” mean.
“Trigger Points” to you mean a sore spot when it is touched. One of those “I-didn’t-know-that-hurt-until-you-pushed-on-it” type points. We are looking for these in certain areas because “pain patterns” often have a “trigger point” associated with them. This means that we may be able to stop the associated pain by rubbing on the “trigger point” instead. The body is REALLY all connected. I’m never shocked anymore with where a client will feel “referred pain” from a “trigger point”.
What is “referred pain”? This can happen, for example, when we are pressing on a “trigger point”, but instead of feeling pain at that point, you could feel pain down your arm, up your neck, in your chest, etc. Sometimes it’s on the other side of the body, sometimes down the legs, arms, etc. Everyone is different and every trigger point is different.
Your therapist should use several different styles or “modalities” of massage to relieve your pains, tenderness and tension. This may include different oils or lotions, first checking if you have any sensitivities, aromatherapy, hot towels, deep tissue, lighter work, rocking, myofacial work, etc.
So, in general, if you only have a few areas of tension that need extra time, then your massage will usually go something like this: You start face-down and the massage therapist starts on your back, shoulders and neck, by rubbing oil/lotion along the muscle next to the spine, neck and out to the shoulders for about 10-15 minutes. Sometimes the hips are included, even under your underwear, if that’s ok with you. Next, the legs and feet. (for the massage I give, I usually work on the legs and the back at the same time…because often back pain is relieved from relaxing the legs. By working on them at the same time, I can tell which part of the leg “causes” different parts of the back to relax…fyi” After both legs are massaged, then usually the back is worked on briefly one more time, then you are asked to turn over. You are always covered when you turn over. Once face-up, your legs and feet are massaged again, then both arms (I always work on the stomach here, but not every therapist does), and finally the neck, shoulders, jaw, head, etc. with the therapist working from the front of the table. This part usually takes the bulk of the “face-up” time. To end, usually the feet are massaged one last time and you are asked to relax and get up when you are ready but to take your time.
The pain you could feel during a Therapeutic Massage should not be past your tolerance, period. Given that you are telling them the truth of what really hurts, the therapist should not hurt you. Sometimes “trigger points” can hurt, but usually not for long and the pain should not last for more than 24 hours.
Signs that the massage was too Deep:
- You have bruising
- It hurts to move after the massage
- You feel soreness past 24 hours
- You are uncomfortable during the massage
If the therapist is not using enough pressure and you feel like a Salad from having so much oil kindly rubbed on you, you can request more pressure and end the massage if you don’t feel like you are getting your money’s worth.
Don’t get trapped getting a “Fluff & Buff” from a non-experienced therapist with no hand strength. That is a common complaint, though.
Payment for your massage should be painless and understood beforehand. Some Massage Offices/studios only take cash/check. Not all take credit cards, so plan ahead.
And, a note for tipping. Please tip. It’s common practice and really appreciated. Remember that the average career of a Massage Therapist is only 5 years mostly because it’s hard on our hands. So, keep that in mind, and if your therapist did a good job, let them know with a $10-$20 tip per hour.
Lastly, after your massage, after paying, if you enjoyed the massage, please reschedule. Many therapists can be shy and might not prompt you to reschedule. This is about YOU, and having a good massage once per month is really worth the time and money. Just imagine how this world would be if each adult had a relaxing massage each month…